A Time to Mourn
Alas, Ravi was a troubled man, his brilliance short-circuited by his indulgence, and his mind-deep eloquence eclipsed by his heart-deep secrets. Like Sampson, he fell at the lapse of women, and like Saul, he mortgaged his conscience for fleshly gratification. How have the mighty fallen! Regarding Saul and Jonathan, King David lamented in words relevant today for Ravi,
“Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon– Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph. “O mountains of Gilboa, Let there be no dew nor rain upon you, Nor fields of offerings. For the shield of the mighty is cast away there! The shield of Saul, not anointed with oil… “O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, Who clothed you in scarlet, with luxury; Who put ornaments of gold on your apparel. “How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle!.. “How the mighty have fallen, And the weapons of war perished!” (2 Samuel 1:19-27).
The contents of the just-released investigation report on Ravi’s sexual misconduct call for a sober lamentation by friends and family. A lamentation of interposition for the sake of the kingdom of God. A deep sorrow as to that of double mourning as if Ravi has died twice. I do not blame those who are outraged at the level of impropriety, deception, and hypocrisy exposed. This lamentation is not about whether Ravi was saved or not, but about his frontline ministry, which spanned decades. I wish to draw attention to David’s response to the fallen former anointed King Saul—a murderous maniac. Rising beyond his well-deserved personal vendetta against Saul, David lamented over a great loss to a great nation. I mourn the great loss of Ravi’s legacy to his moral catastrophe and over the damage to the witness of the kingdom of God. I weep for myself, his family, friends, board, and staff of RZIM. It is a sad day in the body of Christ! How have the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!
Character versus Charisma
It has been hard for many of us to believe that such a highly respected erudite and charismatic evangelist could live such a horrifying lifestyle. Yet, the findings in the report, if truthful, are undeniable. Ravi grew in learning and charisma without adequately crucifying his flesh. Ephesians 4:22-24 commands, “that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” The recent unfolding events serve as a rude awakening to the subtlety of the old nature, and the importance of sanctification through consecration. It was Ravi’s responsibility, and ours too, to continually seek God to help us put off the old man. In all you do, get rid of the flesh! How are the mighty fallen but a lesson for us all!
Christian character formation is the ability to stay on that balance whereby one expresses the holy character of Christ from the vantage point of the finished work of righteousness and not from one’s power or self-righteousness. Apostle Paul admonishes us in Romans 5:1-4, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Our charisma can take us to levels where our character cannot sustain us. Our gifts, skills, education, and personalities are great as we use them for the glory of God, but they are not as crucial as our character. A continually transformed character is the fruit of our salvation (Romans 12:1-2; John 15:1-8). Ravi may have brought many to Christ through his charisma, but he may have been disqualified for lack of fruit—character.
Apostle Paul knew this secret and wrote, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore, I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus, I fight not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Ravi failed to discipline his body and bring it under subjection. How are the mighty fallen but a lesson for us all!
Saved by the Accursed?
There is no doubt that many people were saved under Ravi Zacharias’ ministry. What do they do now? Is their salvation rendered invalid because the messenger who brought them to Christ lived in sin? How we answer these questions will greatly impact many lives and their faith in Christ. I have a burden for the thousands of souls who were saved through Ravi’s preaching and teaching. The devil will come after them to discourage them and even cast doubt on their faith.
The infallible truth of the word of God is contained in and disseminated by fallible earthen vessels. In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul writes, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” Evangelists are like catalysts in the ministry of salvation. The moral failure of the evangelist does not depreciate the integrity of truth he propagated. Rather, moral failure is a blight on the evangelist overtaken by sin while he knew the truth. Hence, James declares, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” (James 3:1). Given all that Ravi knew, he died a hypocrite and will stand before God condemned if he died in his sins without repentance. How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle!
However, we must separate the gospel and the validity of salvation from the character of the messengers of the gospel. Preachers preach, but it is Christ who saves. This fact is highlighted by Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:5-7, “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.” Yes, messengers ought to be holy and without blemish, but historically, some of them have not maintained this high ministerial standard. Nevertheless, those who were genuinely saved under the ministry of fallen Christian leaders need to stay focused on Christ and not doubt their salvation. If you are one of those saved under the ministry of Ravi do not doubt or regret your salvation. Rather, lament over Ravi’s fall. As David puts it, “O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with luxury; Who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.” (2 Sam 1:19-27). How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle!
It must be recalled that between the fourth and sixth centuries, Donatists argued that Christian clergy must be holy for their ministry to be effective and valid. This position was first condemned in 313 by a special synod at the Lateran Palace in Rome. Later, in the early fifth century, Bishop Augustine wrote against this official heresy in his In Ioannis Evangelium Tractatus. Augustine clarified that the action of Christ is distinct from the action of the minister when performing a sacrament. According to him, the minister acts upon a delegated ministry conferred upon him by Christ, whereas Christ acts by His power. Hence, he asserted, “…those whom Judas baptized, Christ baptized. So too, then, those whom a drunkard baptized, those whom a murderer baptized, those whom an adulterer baptized if the Baptism was of Christ, Christ baptized” (In Ioannis Evangelium Tractatus, 5,18). Also, in the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas reiterated, “The sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God” (Summa Theologiae, III, 68, 8). Much as we may condemn the minister for his egregious sins, I agree with the church fathers that any act of Christ remains valid irrespective of the sins of any messenger of Christ. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. Yet, it is with deep sorrow that we acknowledge that the mighty have fallen, a lesson for us all!
My prayer goes to Ravi’s family for the fortitude to bear this double tragedy and the comfort to heal.
To the RZIM board and staff, for courage, wisdom, and resilience in carrying on the ministry of apologetics evangelism.
To those he mentored, to be bold and courageous in contending for their faith in this most challenging circumstance.
To those who came to Christ through him, I pray that you will hold onto your faith in Christ, who alone is sinless and who alone gave His life that you might be saved.
To the entire body of Christ to condemn the sin but tread with caution, lament, and extend grace to Ravi’s family and ministry team as we all heal.
To all, remember David’s words, “Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon– Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph” (2 Samuel 1:19-27). We must not let the devil gloat over our travail. We must march on and the gates of hell shall not prevail! The mighty has indeed fallen—a lesson for us all!